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The Burnt Part Boys


Musical in 1 act. Book by Mariana Elder; Music by Chris Miller; Lyrics by Nathan Tysen

Playwrights Horizons, Off-Broadway (Mainstage Theatre) - 30th April - 13th June, 2010 (29 previews, 23 perfs)


An unforgettable coming of age story, THE BURNT PART BOYS follows the adventures of a group of teenagers deep in West Virginia's coal country in 1962. The musical is a life transforming odyssey

Fourteen year-old Pete's fighting to claim his past. His older brother Jake's hoping to forge a future. With an eclectic band of friends teetering on the brink of adulthood, they've embarked on a life-altering journey to the coal mine that took their father's life. With its soaring, elegiac bluegrass and pop-inspired score, this inspirational new musical finds both the streaks of light and  the heart of darkness within us all.


A row of headlamps slowly comes up. In the distance, we see miners from 1952 - the Dead Miners -vigorously working on the earth that their God created.

We now flash forward ten years, to 1962. We are in the town of Pickaway, West Virginia. An impoverished coalmining town with lush mountains and the Burnt Part - a gray and desolate area. Jake and Chet, two eighteen-year old coal miners, are finishing up a full night of drinking. The two  friends lament about leaving school to work eight hours a day, for five days a week.

We move to Saturday morning in Jake's kitchen. At breakfast, we meet Pete who must beg and plead for seventy-five cents from Jake. Dusty enters and proclaims that he will be the musical entertainment for his grandma's quilting circle that evening! A news report airs over the radio, announcing the reopening of the Pickaway Coal Company's South Mountain mine. It is revealed that there was a tragic collapse and fire in 1952 at the very same mine. The boys' fathers were victims of the collapse. Jake informs Pete that he has been handpicked for the reopening; Peter is concerned and pleads with his older brother. Jake storms out, leaving Pete to  his thoughts and regrets. Lost in his fantasies, General Sam Houston from The Alamo appears to Pete in the kitchen. Pete concludes that there is only thing to do - demolish the Burnt Part.

He stuffs dynamite in his backpack and leaves.

Later that day, Chet and Jake have come back home from fishing. Chet confronts Jake about the way he handles the Burnt Part with his little brother, Pete. Outside, Pete is pleading to Dusty to join him on the mission to the Burnt Part. He is hesitant.   Eventually, Jake discovers the broken lockbox and missing dynamite; he and Chet go chasing after Pete. But Pete and Dusty, who has reluctantly joined him, are already long gone. Jake and Chet have come to the realization that they must now make the journey to the Burnt Part - the same place their fathers met an untimely fate.

Further on, in the woods, we find Pete and Dusty stopped in front of a Pickaway Coal Company security fence. Pete is now lost in a new Alamo fantasy, as Davy Crockett appears to show him the way around the fence.

In another area of the woods, we meet Frances; she has her gun raised and is stalking her breakfast . As a campsite comes into view, Frances runs into Pete and Dusty. Frances is not pleased and demands they leave - Pete is shocked to see her. It is revealed that she ran away  from her home and parents three months ago. When Dusty tells her of their mission, Frances is intrigued and insists on joining. She says she has been to the Burnt Part and can help them. They continue on their journey.

Back on the company road, Jake and Chet talk about starting work on Monday and how they plan to find  Pete. At the same time, in the hills, we see Dusty, Frances, and Pete navigating their way through the terrain.

Tensions are beginning to mount as Dusty and Frances argue about the past. It climaxes to a physical face-off, as the three wrestle around on the ground. They are stopped by the sound of Jake and Chet's calls; Peter is being followed. Finding resolve in his fantasies, Jim Bowie appears to Pete.

With a new determination, Pete insists they keep going. Frances and Dusty are shocked to find out what Pete's true plans are, and that he has stolen dynamite from Jake. Dusty refuses to do it and turns back; Frances and Pete continue on.   Elsewhere, we find Jake and Chet standing at one side of a violent river - with only some ropes left. Chet reminds Jake that this is the Clinch River, a river they used to try to canoe on. We shift to Pete and Frances who are at the river, but much further upstream. The two find an old boat and make it across. Back at the other end, Jake and Chet have successfully crossed the river too.

In another area, Dusty ponders his decision to retreat.

Pete and Frances find themselves in Sullycreek woods, as they get closer to the Burnt Part. The tired duo sits to rest. Deep in conversation, Frances opens up and confides in Pete. She also admits that she has never been to the Burnt Part.

In another area, Jake and Chet come across an impassable section of the road. Jake suggests they try the Sullycreek woods to get around it but Chet reminds him of a warning, from the older workers, about that part of the forest. The Dead Miners appear, from the abyss, as the four friends travel through the forest.

Chet and Jake come across a small abandoned graveyard; Frances and Pete come across an ancient mining tunnel. They are all close to the Burnt Part. Just then, Dusty arrives at the tunnel - and, behind him, Chet and Jake follow. A tense argument breaks out.

Following an altercation, Jake is able to steal away the dynamite. The group finally agrees to venture on - but only to "look and then leave." They are on the final leg of the journey and begin to anticipate what they will encounter upon their arrival.

At last, they reach the Burnt Part. Pete suggests a moment of silence; the others bow their head and close their eyes as Pete secretly grabs his backpack and begins setting up the dynamite. Pete pushes down on the dynamite blasting cap. Rocks begin to fall and a huge hole opens up in the rocks. Darkness.  Chet's flashlight flickers on. The group has been thrown into the pitch black of a small tunnel.

Jake and Chet agree to explore the tunnel and find an exit as the others stay back. When Jake and Chet return, it's revealed that they are trapped.  In a time-lapse of sequences, we begin at 6:58 PM when the group shut out their lights and end all conversation to preserve energy and oxygen. At 11:22 p.m., Chet tries to instill hope in the group and offer ideas for rescue. At 2:46 a.m., the flashlight goes on - and then off - again. When 6:02 a.m. comes, the flashlight is dimming. Hope is quickly fading away.

Suddenly, there is a sound of digging and clanking. Silence. Then more digging. The Dead Miners appear. We are back in 1952 and the miners are proudly boasting about their kids. The ghosts finally turn to the children and they embrace. Jake and Pete share a moment with their Dad.

As they continue to embrace, a shaft of light cuts into the tunnel; the Dead Miners vanish.

Chet determines that they are actually stuck in one of the front two chambers - there is still a chance of survival. Dusty, with full physical confidence, begins clearing the way. He moves boulders, rocks, and stones. With one last push, the group breaks through into the sunlight. They stand and look down on the valley as the sun rises.

Musical Numbers

  1. God's Eyes
  2. Eight Hours
  3. Man I Never Knew/Houston's Call To Arms
  4. The Burnt Part
  5. Sunrise
  6. Davy Crockett
  7. Good Morning Gun
  8. Little Toy Compass
  9. Climbing Song
  10. Bowie's Lament
  11. Balancing
  12. Dusty Plays The Saw
  13. Family Tree
  14. Climbing Song 2
  15. Disappear
  16. Countdown
  17. I Made That
  18. Finale